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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

5 May 2020

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right.  Good afternoon and happy Tuesday, because it's Tuesday.  You all know the drill by now – mute your mics and if you want to ask a question, just make sure that you are sending both audio and video, so I can see and hear you at the same time.

**COVID-19 – Disabilities

Just a heads up that tomorrow, the Secretary-General will launch his latest COVID-19 policy brief.  This one will look at the impact of the virus pandemic on the world's 1 billion people with disabilities.  The policy brief highlights how people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty and experience higher rates of violence, neglect and abuse.  It also looks at how the pandemic is intensifying these inequalities – and producing new threats.  Later today, we will share with you the embargoed material related to the policy brief, including links to a video message that the Secretary-General will be using for the launch.

**Displaced Children

Our colleagues at the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) tell us that today, an estimated 19 million children – more than ever before – were displaced in their own countries due to conflict and violence, that's in 2019.  The agency warned that, as COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, these children are among the most vulnerable to its direct and indirect impacts.  The UN Children's Fund noted that internally displaced children often cannot access basic services and are at risk of exposure to violence, exploitation, abuse and trafficking, as well as child labour, child marriage and family separation.  And there is more information online.

**United Nations Global Compact

For its part, the UN Global Compact today warned that delays and disruptions in the supply of goods produced at and shipped by sea will cause significant shortages if Governments don't work together to keep global supply chains moving during the pandemic.  Almost 90 per cent of the global trade of goods is carried by vessels.  The Global Compact said that one of the most urgent concerns right now is the changeover of essential personnel needed for continuous operations.  This includes 100,000 seafarers finishing their contracts every month.  Travel restrictions and grounded airplanes have rendered routine crew changeovers virtually impossible.  The Global Compact released a set of recommendations for policymakers to keep these supply chains moving.  These include the recognition of a "key worker" status system and establishing a uniform approach for granting exemption measures across maritime jurisdictions on vessels and personnel.  You can find all of these recommendations online at the Global Compact's website.


The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) remains concerned at the continued fighting in the country and reiterates its call for a cessation of hostilities during the holy month of Ramadan.  The Acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, continues her outreach to Libyan interlocutors, as well as to international partners, especially the Berlin Conference's participants, to garner support for an immediate resumption of the political process in Libya.  Meanwhile, today, the Security Council received a briefing on Libya by the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda.  Her remarks have been shared with you.


Moving on to Syria, I can tell you that we remain deeply concerned over the safety and protection of over 4 million civilians in the north-west of the country.  Over half of these are internally displaced, following reports of shelling over the weekend.  Despite the 6 March ceasefire agreement between the Russian Federation and Turkey, reports of intermittent shelling continue on a daily basis.  Between 30 April and 4 May, artillery shelling reportedly affected nine communities in the Idlib Governorate, as well as one in northern Aleppo Governorate and two in Hama Governorate.

The massive cross-border response continues to provide life-saving assistance to people in need throughout the north-west, including health items to prepare for COVID-19 outbreaks.  In April alone, some 1,365 trucks crossed from Turkey, providing food, health items and other critical humanitarian support.  Another 133 trucks have already crossed in May.  We continue to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and urges all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure the protection of civilians as well as civilian infrastructure, and that is, of course, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.


And in Yemen, as of this morning, 22 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed.  That's doubling the official count from just 24 hours ago.  There is a very real probability that the virus has been circulating undetected, which could lead to a later surge that may overwhelm health facilities.  We and our humanitarian partners in Yemen are responding to the virus with focus on case management, risk communications, community engagement and protecting the wider public health system.  Over 20 million people have now been reached with COVID-related awareness materials through television channels and radio stations, and over 7.5 million people have been reached via social media platforms, as well as over half a million people through house-to-house visits.  We are also supporting direct case management.  Some 333 rapid response teams have been deployed across the country to follow up on reports and refer people for testing and treatment as needed.  Treatment facilities, including 37 isolation units, are being supported by us and our partners, and we are also providing critical supplies such as ventilators and protective equipment.


And turning to Afghanistan, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today warned that, amidst the fight against the virus, Afghanistan is struggling to safely absorb the more than 271,000 people who have returned from Iran and Pakistan since January.  IOM has deployed more than 100 health workers and is also providing training, personal protection equipment and other critical supplies.  Also today, our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that Afghan refugee returns from Iran and Pakistan are suspended due to COVID-19 precautionary measures.  As of 5 May, Afghanistan had almost 2,900 confirmed cases of the virus and 90 deaths.


And our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today expressed their concerns over the conditions in many prisons in the Americas region, which are enabling the rapid spread of the virus.  Pre-existing structural problems, such as chronic overcrowding and unhygienic conditions, coupled with the lack of proper access to health care, have led to the infection of thousands of inmates, as well as prison officials in the Americas.  In many countries, the increasing fear of contagion has triggered protests and riots.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reminds authorities that the use of force must strictly comply with the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination, and that States have the duty to protect inmates' physical and mental health, as well as well-being.  The Office also calls on States to ensure widespread access to testing and health care for detainees, as well as protective equipment and testing for prison personnel.


Staying in the region.  In Honduras, IOM and its partners are working to provide 15,000 tests for COVID-19 for citizens of Honduras, as well as migrants who are returning to the country.  Since March, the country has been receiving returning migrants from the United States at a rate of 100 people per day.  Since the start of the pandemic, IOM has donated to Honduras more than 1,550 hygiene kits, as well as 800 bedding sets, 450 towels and equipment for 770 shelters.


In Brazil, the UN team in Brazil is working closely with national and local authorities to flatten the curve and lift the economy, focusing on the most vulnerable groups in the two poorest regions.  Under the leadership of the Resident Coordinator, Niky Fabiancic, and the Representative of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), we are also working to strengthen the health system.  In the northern region, which hosts migrants and refugees from Venezuela, IOM has donated equipment to the local health system; while UNHCR is helping refugees and migrants apply for the Government's emergency cash assistance.  UNICEF and UN-Women are supporting prevention efforts in shelters, and the UN team is sharing information in multiple languages to help combat xenophobia and protect migrants, as well as refugees.

In the Amazon region, the UN and our partners are also helping local authorities protect indigenous peoples.  In two major cities in the north-eastern region, UN-Habitat is boosting prevention efforts in informal settlements while providing basic services to help people stay at home during the pandemic.  To prevent the spread of the virus in prisons across the country, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and other UN entities are working directly with State courts.  And for its part, the International Labour Organization (ILO) is working to protect jobs and address the needs of informal workers.  UNICEF has also helped to launch a website to support teachers and families' home-schooling efforts.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Meanwhile, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) tells us they are continuing to work closely with the Congolese authorities and provided a broad range of technical support in supporting the Government's COVID-19 response.  For example, the Mission has supported the police force of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in its response to the virus, including the issuance of an operational directive to help police officers implement containment measures in line with national human rights commitments.  The UN peacekeeping mission is also working to provide locally made personal protective equipment, as well as masks to prison staff and members of the national police and army.  The peacekeeping mission has also provided expertise to the Congolese Ministry of Health on the topic of contact tracing to help limit the spread of the virus.  The Mission itself has implemented rigorous measures to minimize the risk of infection both for its own personnel, as well as the local population.  No positive cases have been reported to date in the Mission.


In Malawi, our colleagues in the UN country team launched a nearly $140 million appeal to support the immediate health, humanitarian and socioeconomic response to COVID-19 in support of the country's Government.  The Resident Coordinator, Maria Jose Torres, said the new appeal will focus on local-level action to protect those most in need, while also boosting urgent health measures to curb the spread of the pandemic.  Malawi has 41 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  The pandemic is deeply impacting the country's fragile economy.

We seek to help more than 7 million people, including 2.5 million children who are out of school.  Half of them are girls.  The UN is also helping the Government with its distance learning options by providing food, water and sanitation, as well as planning for the safe reopening of schools.  We are also targeting 4.8 million people with food and livelihood assistance, which includes supporting the Government's universal registration system to distribute cash transfers.  Four million [people] will receive health assistance, with the UN training health workers providing personal protection equipment and strengthening the surveillance capacity.

**Plastic Waste

And lastly in Asia, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in partnership with the Government of Japan, today launched a new project to reduce the environmental impact of cities in South-East Asia by tackling plastic waste in rivers and oceans.  The new project will use innovative technologies such as remote sensing, satellite and crowdsourced data applications, to detect and monitor the sources and pathways of plastic waste entering rivers in urban areas.  The four pilot cities will be Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia; Surabaya in Indonesia; Nakhon in Thailand and Da Nang in Viet Nam.  All right.  Enough talking for me.  It's now up to you to perform.  Let me see what questions we have, for which I need my glasses.  Okay.  Edie, please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I, of course, listened to what you said about Libya, but I wondered if the Secretary-General has any comment on Libyan Prime Minister [Faiez] Serraj's statement today calling for a renewal of UN-brokered talks?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we are… that's the message that we have been pushing, as well, is a return to the UN-supported political discussions.  It's important that all the parties involved, whether Libyan or those who have influence over those parties, move in the same direction, and that is towards political talks.  All right.  Let's see.  Who else?  Mr. Avni.  Benny.  Nice to see you.

Question:  Yes, sir.  Does the Secretary-General have any view in regards to participation of Taiwan in the WHO [World Health Organization]?

Spokesman:  Look, issues relating to the WHO are to be handled by the World Health Assembly, its governing body.  We, as far as the Secretary-General, are governed by the relevant General Assembly resolutions on the One-China policy, but that's an issue for the WHO.

Richard Roth.  Did you have a question?  All right.  I think I will read Richard's question and try not to smile:  In a rare move, the Pentagon has released US military video of potential UFOs [unidentified flying objects] in the night skies located by US pilots.  Since, under international treaties, the Secretary-General is designed as the global representative to greet and talk with any sudden arrivals from outer space, has the Secretary-General put the UFO issue higher on his radar screen – no pun intended, no doubt – and is he ready to convene a task force or inquiry, which is a standard go-to on UN reaction procedures?  The video clearly showed unaccounted high-speed [objects]…

You know, the Secretary-General, like all of us, is ready for any eventuality, whether it's speaking with anyone on this earth or anyone coming from outside.

Oscar Bolanos.  Okay.  You have also… let me read it… read out Oscar's question:  COVID-19 has made the world count of dead people day by day.  Meanwhile, billions of dollars are being spent to stimulate the world economy to fight the common enemy.  The numbers are graphic… in this regard, when there will… when there will still not be a vaccine, the information could be shared… what the UN… do to create a mechanism to prevent human… major humanitarian crisis.

Well, I mean, I think, Oscar, with all due respect – and I'm sure you have been paying attention – we have put out global humanitarian appeal.  Our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], Mr. [Mark] Lowcock, will be updating that appeal very soon.  We are fully mobilized to prevent… to do what we can to prevent a major humanitarian catastrophe.  The Secretary-General's been very clear in calling on the G20 and calling on world leaders to work in a coordinated fashion in order to tackle the vaccine… the virus.  Excuse me.  And in terms of the virus, the therapeutics or any other treatment, it is very important that they be available globally, affordably and be considered a global public good.  Toby, NHK?

Question:  Hey, Steph.  Thank you very much.  Just want… can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yep.  Yeah.

Question:  Just want to make sure 19 million internally displaced children… did you say that was a record?  And if so, for how many years?

Spokesman:  That was a record… it was the number in 2019.  So, it is a record, but I would encourage you to… UNICEF has more details, but that was the number for 2019.  And the way I read it, it was the highest number on record.  Okay.  Let's go down the line.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Libyan ambassador, in his speech, he called on the members of the Security Council and the UN to stop talking about the crime, rather speaking about the criminal.  So, he said, it's enough to be vague and talk about these crimes as if committed by a ghost.  The criminal is Khalifa Haftar.  Would the UN abide by that?  Would the UN… in its future statements and comments on the crimes committed in civilian air attacks would name the criminal?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General has been very clear in his statements and in his reports on that matter.  Gloria?

Question:  Can I have a second question?

Spokesman:  Oh, please, please.  It's… the price is the same, Abdelhamid. 

Question:  Okay.  Has World Health issued a pattern for people who can make the face masks in their own homes and even overseas?  And some of them that can be washable to be reused a second time.  A pattern, a definite pattern for face cloths.

Spokesman:  Gloria, I do not know.  I think countries have been producing their face masks individually.  They're pretty… from what I gather, pretty simple to make, although I have not tried to make one myself.  That's a question for the WHO.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yes, my question about East Jerusalem, Stéphane.  The people in East Jerusalem, they are losing on both sides.  The Israelis are not extending their services to combat COVID-19, and they're not allowing PA [Palestinian Authority] to be active in East Jerusalem.  In fact, as we mentioned before, they arrested the minister for a couple of hours and the governor, and they broke down a clinic in East Jerusalem.  They arrested voluntary committees, and they are suffering.  And it's ex… the disease… or the pandemic is spreading fast in East Jerusalem, more than the rest of the West Bank or even Gaza.  Is something to be done about that?

Spokesman:  Let me get an update from our colleagues at OCHA in Jerusalem, and I will come back to you.  All right.  Michelle Nichols has a question.  She's apparently typing it.  I'm very excited to wait for her question.  We need a little bit of pause music here.  All right, Michelle, you got to type faster.

All right.  What is the Secretary-General doing to convince the US to take part in global efforts?

The Secretary-General's message to all his American interlocutors is very simple – that we need US involvement, that US participation in the UN structures is critical in normal times and is even more important during these times.  That is it, and I will see you tomorrow, which is Wednesday.  Take care.  Bye.

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